More Options for Revision after Acquittal

Minister of Security and Justice Opstelten wants to have more room to prosecute unconditionally acquitted suspects for the same offence, if new, highly incriminating evidence is found. This not only applies to offenses punishable by life imprisonment that have resulted in the death of another person, but also to cases of manslaughter and violent and sexual offences with fatal consequences. In addition, he wants to be able to review criminal cases after acquittal, with retroactive effect. This is evident from a memorandum of amendment sent to the Lower House today. The decision follows from the coalition agreement.

The proposed widening is necessary to offer society better protection against offenders who have committed serious crimes. Serious violent and sexual offences can traumatise victims and surviving relatives irreparably. Such crimes also affect citizens’ faith in the legal system and their perceived safety. It is difficult to accept that after acquittal for such a crime no punishment could be imposed, if new, very strong evidence is found afterwards by forensic research, for instance a DNA test in a so-called ‘cold case’.

The Minister’s decision involves the amendment of a legislative proposal already submitted to the Lower House that provides for detrimental revision and that applies to, for instance, murder and arson resulting in fatal casualties. At the cabinet’s proposal this is now extended to homicide and violent and sexual offences with fatal consequences. For instance, mistreatment from the effects of which the victim has eventually died, or – in sex cases – rape or human trafficking with fatal consequences.

The intention to provide for the possibility of detrimental revision with retroactive effect is also based on the consideration that in the case of serious crimes the interests of society can prevail over the interests of the acquitted suspect. It concerns acquittals that have become irrevocable before the effective date of the proposed legislative change. Criminal offences that have already prescribed are excluded. Detrimental revision is not possible in those cases.

The legislative proposal for detrimental revision is part of a general amendment of the existing revision scheme in criminal cases that is regarded as the emergency brake procedure in Dutch criminal law. This extraordinary legal remedy makes it possible to reopen closed criminal investigations in exceptional cases. The amendment of the revision scheme also results from developments in forensic technology that may shed new light on the evidence in a closed criminal case.